Don't Make It Hurt
So here’s an argument against irreducible complexity. Take a family that works hard for a living, saves a large chunk of its earnings for old age, emergencies, sending kids through college, and so on. Then create (through some combination of amino acids and other proteins) an institute that offers insurance against disaster. The family, being prudent, realizes that the insurance, while it costs them a little more each month, could potentially save them thousands of dollars in the long run, and so it buys into the insurance company. Now introduce a mutation: the family decides that since disasters are covered, they can divert a little more money into luxuries. Repeat this process with a health care institute that helps cover the soaring prices of medication; a loan agency to cover college tuition (which is steadily outpacing what the normal family can afford); a loan agency to cover the cost of a business; a house; a car; anything at all with the swipe of a plastic card with a magnetic strip. With that final mutation, we now have a system in which the removal one component causes the whole organism to fail, and yet was built up by increments.
Nearly half a year after the great crash that marked our current recession as one of the worst in decades, we are still bleeding. Our economy continues to shed jobs; the stock market wavers, falls, stabilizes, wavers, and falls again; big businesses, like the insurance titan AIG, continue to need billions of dollars of bailout money just to survive; and the government continues to scramble to pass legislation that supposedly will fix all our problems, but in reality will simply make matters worse. The gigantic stimulus package was laughable (in more a mad, gibbering, hysterical laughter than a ha-ha laughter) in that hundreds of pet projects suddenly found funding, but precious little in the bill actually targeted economic stimulus, and much of the spending won’t happen immediately.
What is really telling about the whole process is how legislators didn’t want to simply give the money directly back to the people because they would *ohmygosh* use that money to pay down debts, invest in savings, and catch up on bills rather than spend that money bolstering the economy. This, I think, reveals the whole charade as it is. What our officials are doing right now are scrambling to ensure that peoples’ lives are not made painful by the economic downturn. It doesn’t matter how badly their policies screw things up in the long run; if they can make things comfortable now, that’s all that matters.
This plays on both sides of the aisle. Republicans, who nominally have fiscal responsibility in their creed, united in opposition of the stimulus bill, not because the government did not have $800 billion to spend, but because they did not think that money would be spent in the right places. It was still obvious to them that the insane amount needed to be spent in order to salvage our economy.
No one has the audacity to step forward and announce, “People, we’re going to suffer through some difficult times. The only way to see clear through this is by being fiscally prudent. We have to cut back on spending so that we can dig ourselves out of debt. The old philosophy that promised we could borrow our way into financial success has proved a great lie. It turns out that borrowing against the future carries immense risks, and the consequences of failure–so apparent in the great tragedy gripping our nation now–vastly overwhelm the benefit. We thought we could dodge such a collapse, that we could slip by odds stacked against us, but we were wrong.
“What we failed to realize is that even our best laid plans at times prove insufficient. Even a family that does everything right can find themselves without a job to support them, while their savings disappeared overnight. If that can happen to good people, people who can do everything right, how much more likely is it that it would happen to those of us who behaved recklessly, irresponsibly, and took on greater risk than we could afford? Well, it did happen. Our debt piled so high that the only way we could handle it was to move debt around. When the mountain crumbled, and we found ourselves unable to borrow to pay off what we borrowed before, we were faced with an ugly truth.
“We have before us two options. We can ignore that truth. We can continue to point fingers to blame a few scapegoats when we know that most of us bear the burden of responsibility. We can seek to bail ourselves out by taking on even larger debts to forestall immediate discomfort, hoping that the recovery we effect will miraculously allow us to emerge from the hole we’ve dug. And when that fails, we can try to bail ourselves out again, and again, until we’ve dug a hole so deep that we can no longer climb our way out.
“Or we can face that truth, that our irresponsibility, that our indulgence in every material pleasure at the expense of foresight, brought us to this place. We can acknowledge that our way forward will require us to make sacrifices, to face extreme discomfort and even outright pain. We will have to swallow our pride and downgrade our standard of living. We will have to live conservatively: eating less, drinking less, using less electricity, using less fuel, buying fewer toys, forgoing pleasurable activities. This is a hard thing to ask. We have become quite accustomed to our excess, and we don’t want to relinquish any of that.
“Already we can hear the protests. ‘What about the economy?’ comes the plaintive cry. ‘Won’t people continue to lose jobs if we stop spending?’ This is indeed a legitimate cry of pain. Cutting back on our spending means fewer jobs, and fewer jobs means an even greater need to save money, which in turn means less money spent and thus even fewer jobs. This is part of the pain, the suffering we must be willing to endure if we are to emerge from the crisis healthy and clean. We have the assurance that we never need fear that the downward spiral will continue indefinitely; at some point, we will bleed out, and the sooner we finish bleeding, the sooner we can heal.
“However, as soon as we make one assurance, other protests spring up. ‘What about the poor? Who will take care of them? It is fine for those who retain their jobs and can save their money, but about those of us who lose all hope of making a living?’ This too is a pain we must suffer. We have grown lazy as a people and disinterested in the wellbeing of our fellow man. We have played at class warfare, at racial warfare, at gender warfare, and even generational warfare. It is time to put an end to this. If we are divided by class, by race, by sex, and by age, is it any wonder that it seems we must all rise and fall on our own, with only the government to save us? Rather, we must be willing to set such issues aside and move forward together. And this, too, is painful. It is painful to approach a hungry man and say, ‘Here is some of mine. I have enough to share.’ It is painful to say, ‘I can give some, but it means forgoing some of the nice things I had wanted.’ It is especially painful to say, ‘I don’t like you and don’t want to give to you, but here is some, anyway.’
“Too many people want to convince us that we can overcome this disaster without pain. They promise that we don’t have to give up our excess, that we can continue living as we have, if only we indulge in even more spending, even more debt. We need to declare loudly, ‘Enough! If we find ourselves in a crisis because cannot afford to repay the debts we already owe, how can we save ourselves through even greater debts? We will no longer plead “don’t make it hurt.” Rather, we will suffer through to financial freedom. This pain is a pain worth bearing.’
“If ever there was a message of ‘We can’, it is a message to embrace now. We can stand up to our officials who believe they are our saviors and say, ‘Though it hurts, we can–and without your help.’”
But of course, we know this will never happen.